In its response to the report produced by the Freedom of Information Commission , published on 1 March (1), the Government has announced that it will accept the Commission’s recommendations and not introduce charges for FOI requests. Nor will it make changes to the rules which allow charges to be made for complex and time consuming FOI requests. In addition, the Government intends to force public authorities to publish, on a quarterly and annual basis, detailed statistics on the number and nature of FOI requests received, and to publish more information about the pay and perks of senior staff(2).
You will probably recall that Thanet Council, despite UKIPs manifesto commitment to support the FOI system, proposed to the Commission that a £25 charge for every FOI request be imposed. This would have made it impossible for local campaigners such as myself and Louise Oldfield to have exposed the incompetence, mismanagement and abuse of power by TDC and its then Labour councillors which lay behind the Ramsgate Pleasurama and Margate Dreamland projects and the TransEuropa Ferries secret £3.4 million debt scandal to name but a few. It would have also stymied the efforts of local and regional media to expose the serial wrongdoings and fuckups of what many believe to be the worst council in England - TDC.
Thankfully, TDC’s North Korean style democracy-dodging proposal was totally at odds with the thinking of the Commission and Government who both stated that accountability, and transparency would be undermined if requests for information were deterred by the imposition of fees.
This decision should be a clear signal to organisations like Thanet Council, and it’s accountability-avoiding councillors, that their longstanding cultures of secrecy, cover-up and economy with the truth will not be tolerated and that they should be much more open to the public about their actions. Its hard to believe that for once I find myself on the side of the Conservative Government, what next? Supporting Iris Johnston or Chris Wells?